Gina Lollobrigida, the ravishing Italian beauty who became a rival to Sophia Loren before leaving acting to work as a photojournalist, died Monday in a clinic in Rome, Reuters reported. She was 95.
A storied sex symbol from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Lollobrigida worked with a who’s who of film royalty, including Errol Flynn, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn, Steve McQueen, Yves Montand, Bob Hope, Ernest Borgnine, Alec Guinness and Marcello Mastroianni.
It was Humphrey Bogart, her first American leading man, who said, “She makes Marilyn Monroe look like Shirley Temple.”
Born July 4, 1927, in Subiaco, Italy, she entered the Miss Italia beauty pageant in 1947, coming in third. It was enough to give her a national profile, and led to a seven-year American film contract with mogul Howard Hughes.
Though she had appeared in bit parts in Italian cinema as early as 1946, her career heated up in the ’50s with Italian productions like “Bread, Love and Dreams” (1953), for which she was BAFTA-nominated, as well as “The Wayward Wife” (1953), “Woman of Rome” (1954), and “Beautiful but Dangerous” (1955).
She also worked in France, including in “Fearless Little Soldier” (1952) and “Beauties of the Night” (1952).
Her American film career was launched with the hit “Beat the Devil” (1953), and continued with popular hits like “Crossed Swords” (1954), “Trapeze” (1956), and one of her most famous parts, as Esmeralda in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1956).
Lollobrigida was there when her “Solomon and Sheba” (1959) co-star Tyrone Power collapsed and died on set, leading to Yul Brynner’s hiring.
Refusing a supporting role in “La Dolce Vita” (1960) — a major regret — she won a Golden Globe for the 1961 rom-com “Come September” and was nominated for another for the sex farce “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” (1968), whose plot inspired Broadway’s “Mamma Mia!” thirty years later.
Working less regularly in the ’70s, she took on a splashy role as Francesa Gioberti in a five-episode arc on the nighttime soap “Falcon Crest” in 1984, turned up in the camp TV miniseries “Deceptions” (1985), and took a two-episode cruise on “The Love Boat” (1986).
She acted only five more times after that, including in her final feature film “XXL” (1997), but by and large had retired to devote more time to photojournalism, an art and profession in which she’d been involved since the ’70s. A book of her portraiture, “Italia Mia,” was published in 1973.
One of her most famous gets was Fidel Castro in 1972, whom she profiled in her documentary short “Ritratto di Fidel.”
She was also a painter and sculptor, a committed philanthropist who famously sold her jewels in 2013 (raising nearly $5 million for stem cell research), and dabbled in politics, running for European Parliament in 1999 and in 2022 for a seat in the Italian senate, age 95.
Married to physician Milko Škofič from 1949-1971, she gave birth to their son Milko Jr. in 1957.
Though engaged in 2006 to a much younger businessman, the relationship became a quagmire when Lollobrigida accused him of having staged a phony wedding ceremony using an imposter. The extra-legal union was further annulled on the authority of no less than the Pope in 2019.
Also in 2019, the enduring star opened up about #MeTo to The Telegraph, revealing she had twice been assaulted. “I’ve also suffered molestation — in fact, more than that — and I didn’t say anything about it at the time. I should have complained but I didn’t have the courage. The first time I was 19, I was still going to school. The second time, well, I’d rather not talk about it. I was married and I was starting out in films.”
That same year, she was spotted in the U.S., where she had traveled to survey — and, of course, photograph — her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Since 2021, Lollobrigida’s son had reportedly been her legal guardian. She is survived by him.